UAE: How streaming platforms have changed the game for actors and content creators

The latest edition of wknd. conversations addressed the growing relevance of OTT and content creation in the entertainment industry


Somya Mehta

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(from left to right) Sadiq Saleem, Neetu Chandra and Gauri Chadha
(from left to right) Sadiq Saleem, Neetu Chandra and Gauri Chadha

Published: Thu 29 Sep 2022, 8:20 PM

Last updated: Wed 7 Dec 2022, 9:03 AM

When our doors closed to the world outside and the pandemic forced us to isolate ourselves from our near and dear ones, people found solace in the arts. Whether it is performing arts, rekindling our love for an old hobby or turning to screens — large and small — from the comfort of our homes, entertainment brought happiness in our lives dark time.

The latest edition of wknd. conversations, in partnership with The Crossing restaurant and FilME, a homegrown streaming platform, was a celebration of the ever changing landscape of entertainment both in the UAE and across the globe. The event that took place on September 27 gathered industry experts and content creators who have been taking the world of social media by storm, to explore the opportunities digital platforms have opened up for entertainers.

The afternoon was kickstarted by Delna Anand Mistry, who delivered a relaxing meditation and sound-healing session to energise the audiences, following which, Dr Abhishek Shukla, founder and CEO, FilMe, addressed the guests. “The mode of consumption of entertainment has changed from single channel to multiple channels to now, streaming platforms and mobile phones. Seventy per cent of all traffic we get is from mobile phones, which has also led to interrupted viewing,” says Dr Shukla.

“You’ll be engaged on your phone for 20 minutes or so and then a call or email competes for your attention. This has given way to a new type of content, which is 30 second videos in the form of TikToks, Instagram reels, YouTube shorts,” added the CEO.

Dr Abhishek Shukla
Dr Abhishek Shukla

The first panel discussion around how streaming platforms have changed the game for actors. On the panel, we had well-known actress and martial artist Neetu Chandra Srivastava, UAE-based filmmaker and actor Gauri Chadha and entertainment writer Sadiq Saleem.

The OTT landscape has shaped the realities of actors, believes Srivastava. “This is the right time for actors to get real. Across the globe, people are looking for great content, so it’s important for us to be realistic and grounded because content has to be more real now.” While OTT has opened up many opportunities for actors, as Srivastava mentioned, there are certain elements of the big screen that the new-age platforms cannot replicate. “The adrenaline rush and or that enthusiasm for a Friday release or box office number is missing on OTT,” says Sadiq Saleem, who writes extensively on the history of cinema and its evolving landscape. “With the advent of OTT and stars being themselves on social media, the mystique element around them has reduced them to celebrities from ‘stars’,” adds Saleem. “This has also impacted the reason why you go to the theatre to watch a film. You’ve already seen so much of them on social media, that the driving force has to be the content.”

Being accessible on social media, however, isn’t all too bad, said Srivastava, who’s a National Award-winning actor. “The good thing about that now the focus will be more on the stories instead of just being curious about the lifestyle of a celebrity. The script is the superstar today,” she added.

Chadha, who’s a UAE-based filmmaker and theatre artist, on the other hand, expressed her concerns about the fading away of collective viewing experiences. “The uniqueness of the collective experience has completely changed with OTT,” said Chadha, adding that the flip side is greater accessibility of content. “It’s fantastic in terms of accessibility. We can access content from anywhere and still keep up with it in our busy lives.”

The second panel of the afternoon spotlighted the intersection of content creators and streaming platform and whether that is the natural next-step for social media entertainers. On the panel, we had three famous content creators, Zubair Sarookh (@zubairsarookh), Sadiq Ahmed (@sadiqahmed0070) and Ahmad Al Marzooqi (@chai_with_ahmad) alongside Dr Shukla.

(from left to right) Sadiq Ahmed, Zubair Sarookh and Ahmad Al Marzooqi
(from left to right) Sadiq Ahmed, Zubair Sarookh and Ahmad Al Marzooqi

While the first panel focused on the various advantages OTT platforms have introduced in the entertainment industry, the second panel showcased a differing perspective. “On OTT platforms we have more exposure but social media is the next step,” Sarookh mentioned candidly. “Even OTT platforms, to promote the show they use content creators,” added the content creator with over 600,000 followers on Instagram.

Ahmed, who has over 400,000 followers on Instagram, seemed to be in agreement. “Social media doesn’t have any restrictions. I’m free to create the content I want. I create stories based on humanity and social cause and my audiences want to see me in that way,” said Ahmed.

Al Marzooqi, who’s a video creator and creates entertainment-related videos on social media, mentioned that content creators also serve as a viable proposition for brands and advertisers. “A content creator is doing everything, whether it is the script, acting or camera work. It’s also cost-effective for brands to associate with them. And they don’t charge much,” said Al Marzooqi.

While social media creators have also enjoyed a lot of popularity in the recent years, especially post-pandemic, with a surge of new platforms and opportunities, there still remain certain grey areas, when it comes to successful brand-influencer partnerships.

“We always look for influencers that can take the brand forward but the key challenge emerges with accountability. Influencers are not always ready to take accountability when it comes to providing tangible results for the brand,” said Dr Shukla.

To this, Sarookh responded: “Just because an influencer has millions of followers doesn’t mean they will convert into 10000 sales for the brand. It’s a better approach to see content creators as people who can create more awareness for the brand and get others to talk about it.” Is that an area which will gain more clarity as the influencer medium ages? Time will tell.

After the two sessions, the guests were presented gift bags by Dabur, as they sat down for a hearty meal served at The Crossing restaurant, discussing the takeaways from the insightful afternoon.

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